I've moved the blog!

I've moved my blog to www.coolcatteacher.com as well as all of the posts from this blog. Learn more...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Artistry of Teaching: And a few thoughts from the Blue Man Group

Most days I feel like a blue man making music out of some pipes and sticks! Great teachers make beautiful music without the resources. Trail blazers use a medium that others do not use... I mean how many rock bands are there?

But these guys put on blue heads and use pipes and make music.

I think we need to look at things a little differently sometimes. See your uniqueness and lack of resources as an opportunity, not a curse.

Can you make music with a cell phone? An ipod? A piece of paper? Your voice? An old computer that someone wants to throw away?

Often artistry is most recognizable when the medium is most lacking!

Anyone can teach a bright student. Anyone can have a great technology program with an unlimited budget.

The creative minds go past what they HAVE and see what they CAN BE.

Think possibilities not limitations! The mindset is all of the difference in the world!

(And take time to laugh for goodness sakes!)

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Finding Japanese contacts for Carlene

I love to pass along letters from teachers (when I can.)

Carlene in Atlanta has a request:

"I am interesting in connecting with someone with knowledge of Japanese Medieval times related to the gardens, temples, etc… If that is not possible, then I would like to address the cultural aspect of Japan. My students would be asking questions about Japanese’s food, clothing, and lifestyle. If all possible, linking everything to Japanese medieval times would be preferable. If you can point me to someone, I would really appreciate it."

If you have contacts or ideas for Carlene, either post in the comments or e-mail me at coolcatteacher [at] gmail [dot] com. Perhaps you know an expert or a classroom in Japan.

Thank you for always coming through! What an amazing network of teachers connecting and learning!

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Motivational Monday: Are you an Iron Man or Woman?

My friend Scott Rigsby is going to be on the Wow2 show tomorrow. I went to high school with Scott (he is 1 year older) and is the first double amputee to complete an iron man in the world. (that is 2.4 miles, 12 mile bike ride, and a full marathon!) He has an inspirational story.

If you have someone in your life or work with students with any type of physical disability, he is an inspiration!

We're going to talk about how the teachers in his life got him through this tough time in his life.

How can you be an inspirational teacher? That is what we'll talk about.

This is his story on Fox Sports:

Fox Sports Part 1 interview with Scott

Fox Sports Part 2 Interview with Scott

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How would you use cell phones to bring Web 2.0 to Cambodia?

My friend Beth Kanter and I have been talking about this project for some time. Beth is an amazing resource (and award winning blogger) for nonprofit fundraising using all types of Web 2.0 tools and I highly recommend her blog.

So, today, as part of her efforts to help a rural Cambodian school, I'm making an unusual request of you, the readers to reach out and do something.

What is this school?
We can all have our "pity parties" but this is how the students get to attend this school:
"Students, picked by lottery, come daily for six weeks to learn word processing, spread sheets, and Internet use, on our one, slow connection, acquiring a useful skill for future employment. Computer education groups repeat on a rotating basis."
What does a lesson look like at this school?

When you complain about your student teacher ratios, look at everyone gathered around the computer in this lesson!

Cambodian bloggers (such as Mam Sari profiled in Beth's blog post) are dedicated, but would you do as Mam Sari does to update his blog?

"He has set up a blog and has a Facebook profile, but to update them he has to ride his motorbike an hour into Phnom Penh. "

What I'm asking you to do (pick one - or two):
  • Contribute the $10 -- If her school raises the most, the Sharing Foundation will give her $50,000 additional for the school. (She has already raised $19,000 with bloggers and facebook contributors.)
  • Answer Beth's Questions: (If you write a blog post, use the tag )
    • What advice would you offer to Mam Sari about incorporating computer instruction on a REALLY slow connection and with one computer connected to the Internet?
    • Are there any web resources or books that you think I should send over to him to read?
    • Dream a little dream with me, if we had a fast Internet connection, what are the possibilities?
  • Answer the twitterpoll by replying in twitter @coolcatteacher the answer to this question, " How would you do web2.0 in rural cambodia with cell phone connection?"
She wants REAL feedback! I already see 3-4 things that he could do to better get his message across to the students. (Remember, he was talking in English for the video so that may have been why some of the students weren't participating. Also remember that they have dial up.)

Note from Vicki: This is a one time thing. Do not expect to see any fundraising from me in the future. I've been watching Beth for some time and believe she is doing very worthwhile work. When one deals with developing countries with a culture of corruption, the struggle is that bureaucracies and governments siphon off the funds that are intended to go to THE PEOPLE. In this case, I feel good that the money is going where it is intended to go. To help PEOPLE. That and my trust relationship with Beth and desire to understand if we really can help things with such efforts is why I am posting. I appreciate your feedback on this.

****I'm posting her blog post today with permission below:

An Internet Lesson in a Rural Cambodian Village: And Then You Wait ...

by Beth Kanter

I launched a bloggers campaign and Twitter Wall of Fame as part of the Sharing Foundation's America's Giving Challenge. (To learn more about the Sharing Foundation, see this article) I've been reaching out to my network, and Vicki Davis is one of the people I turned to for to ask for help with the from her network of wired educators.

Yes, I hope they will contribute the $10 so we can win the $50,000 (which will certainly help us make improvements to our computer school and the Sharing Foundation's many other programs), but I am also want feedback about how to improve a computer program in a rural village in a developing country with really slow Internet. I know it is difficult without being there ..

The Sharing Foundation's Computer School was opened in 2006. Computer classes are held every morning utilizing donated laptops and desktops (that are hand-carried over by Dr. Hendrie on her quarterly trips) Students, picked by lottery, come daily for six weeks to learn word processing, spread sheets, and Internet use, on our one, slow connection, acquiring a useful skill for future employment. Computer education groups repeat on a rotating basis.

I observed Mam Sari, our head English teacher (and computer geek) teach a Google search lesson and captured video above. Mam Sary gets on the Internet via his cell phone connection which costs the Foundation roughly $28 per month. It's slow, but he is able to teach a lesson to the students about how to find supplementary materials for their school assignments. One of the students asked if Google was the best search engine. Mam Sary said, 'Yes, Google is the best." This is amazing because during my last trip in 2004 when I taught ESL, these students gave me a blank stare when I mentioned the words computer and Internet.

As I mentioned, the cell phone connection is really slow. I loved how Mam Sari introduced this to his students. He said, "type in your search term, click on search, and then you wait." Since we only have one Internet connection, all 15 students were huddled around the computer. Mam Sari did not waste this time, he engaged them in a discussion about the content they were searching. (The bad health effects of smoking)

Mam Sary also received several of the video cameras Jay Dedman and Ryanne Hodson brought over to Cambodia last July donated by Doug from the video blogging community. (Jay and Ryan not only created this fantastic video about the Sharing Foundation's projects, but have also donated and asked other video bloggers to support the cause.) Jay and Ryanne taught him how to use the camera and I helped him again a month later when I was there.

That is Mam Sari. He attended the Cambodian Bloggers Summit with me. We participated in a small group role play exercise. Our group was assigned to "Social Media." First we discussed the definition of the term. It became clear that social media in Cambodia means "any media that can solve social issues."

Mam Sari was thrilled to learn about the Web2.0 and is very interested incorporating some of the ideas into his instruction, but unfortunately our very slow Internet connection doesn't make it easy. He has set up a blog and has a Facebook profile, but to update them he has to ride his motorbike an hour into Phnom Penh. The connection is to slow for blogger or Facebook to load. If we had a better Internet connection (very expensive to get high speed Internet in our rural village), we could do more. For example, English lessons on Skype with students in US, post some of the videos created with the cameras on Youtube, use his digital tape recorder to create podcasts, student blogs, etc.

So, my question to Vicki's network is:

  • What advice would you offer to Mam Sary about incorporating computer instruction on a REALLY slow connection and with one computer connected to the Internet?
  • Are there any web resources or books that you think I should send over to him to read?
  • Dream a little dream with me, if we had a fast Internet connection, what are the possibilities?

There has already been over $19,000 for the Sharing Foundation's America's Giving Challenge raised through the unselfish giving of over 650 people like Jay Dedman, Ryanne Hodson, and Coffee with Doug. If you have not yet donated $10 (or more) to this important cause, there is only a few days left to donate and change a Cambodian child's life and maybe help us get a faster Internet connection!

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

eLearn's 2008 predictions and my response

In response to eLearn's predictions for 2008, ( hat tip to Karl Kapp and Stephen Downes) I had to leave a comment that I share with you. Although the "experts" cited are all amazing, it struck me that teachers continue to be "at the bottom of the food chain."

Here is my prediction:

I think it is very important to include classroom teachers in these discussions. I was bothered that no "experts" of that nature were included. So, here is my prediction.

The grassroots movement of teachers to connect will become more pronounced in 2008 with administrators, researchers, and consultants having to take notice. Teachers will wonder why they need "facilitators" when it is more efficiently done themselves and districts will realize that teachers need time to be "teacherpreneurs" as they create and collaborate on projects with their colleagues around the world. E-Learning will become an integral part of the face to face classroom with students learning to collaborate not only with their seatmate but with teammates from around the world.

What are your predictions?

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Warning: Blogging & Twittering may be harmful to your health

An interesting article from LifeScience highlighting studies equating technology addiction to that of being addicted to drugs. In fact, the article says:

"* Another research paper, published in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology by a psychiatrist at Tel Aviv University, recommended that Internet addiction be regarded as an extreme disorder on par with gambling, sex addiction and kleptomania."
Honestly, I think that anything that becomes addictive and trumps face to face OR relationships with others can be harmful. Relationships with my own family has been strengthened by instant messenger and facebook so one has to be careful interpreting this.

It is important to achieve balance, which is why I teach my own kids to "time themselves" while playing video games.

Self discipline is important to learn (and teach.) Honestly, it is why we SHOULD blog myspace and facebook at school. It is addictive.

Meanwhile, this story is going to make a great question of the week for my student bloggers.

I like how the article ends:

"The first thing to do is take a long, hard look at how you are using technologies, and then to start to set some limits," he said. "You have to take off a couple hours and make those hours important enough that you don't allow yourself to be interrupted. I think we should have certain rules. We don’t break up, fire people or break traumatic news to people via e-mail or text message." "

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Is Science, Math, and Technology truly for All?

Note to my readers: This entire post is written by and is the opinion of Louise Maine as a blogger that I have been mentoring. If you quote this article, please link to her post above and cite her (except as noted where I have added my comments.)

Is Science, Math, and Technology truly for All?
simulpost with Hurricaine Maine

by Louise Maine
Hurricane Maine Blog
printed with permission
(c) 2008 Louise Maine, All Rights Reserved

edited by Vicki Davis

I have been in a period of great doubt. It happens because teaching can be very isolating. I doubt my effectiveness, best practices, and whether they are in line with my beliefs. When I reach obstacles in trying to explain our thoughts and positions, I often look to my colleagues on the Internet for support.

Recently, I become so frustrated and I guess down right defensive of my position that blogging and any other application that promotes and develops critical thinking is an excellent addition to ANY science classroom.

I was intrigued to hear criticisms on Dean Shareski’s blog of teacher sharing and using blogging. Dean relates a comment:

"If what I’m planning could just as easily be done as a traditional assignment, then why do it using blogs?".

Clay Burrell comments that
"I’d love to see science teachers using blogs to focus instead on the creativity of science and scientists in general, its wonders and powers, and above all, WTF it’s actually used for in the real world" and "process being the ultimate teachers in how to use this stuff effectively for learning."
Though I agree that conventional assignments may save class time, my heart sinks to think that as a science teacher we would not identify what learning is important before dismissing possible alternatives for better instruction.

The point was made in the comments that blogging would be best for the big ideas. I agree with this statement. But, as a fellow science teacher, I think science teachers are so inundated with the details, that we often miss the big ideas.

WE get the big ideas, but I am sure that as a rule our students are not truly understanding of the big ideas of science such as systems, order, and organization; form and function; and evidence, models and explanation.

Blogging is for Good Teaching but Good Teaching isn't Necessarily to Teach Blogging

I have been mulling this for some time. I am not looking at just blogging as a use of technology. I am focusing on Authentic Instruction and pulling the technology into it. There are few good examples of Authentic Instruction for Science out there but we science teachers are a discriminating, cynical lot.

Science is facts, right?

That is what we teach.

We rant that anything else could ruin good science education, when I am certain that kind of thinking is not good right now.

The debate over the state of Science Education

Issue #1 Science Scores Are Terrible

Even politicians are discussing this. Barack Obama discusses the problems with science education on his website. He advocates for a “strong science curriculum”. But, what is that? (Note: Every candidate has a viewpoint, but this post is already long enough).

You can find many articles about deplorable test scores from U.S. children.

Issue #1 Revisited - Science Scores Aren't Terrible.

There is another viewpoint and we must consider it. In Businessweek's Article, the Science Education Myth, the article discusses how a non-partisan review of the data shows that test scores aren't so bad! (As I was reading I thought: "Enough about the test scores, what are they really measuring?")

Vivek Wadhwa states at the end of the article:

“Perhaps we should focus on creating demand for the many scientists and engineers we graduate. There are many problems, from global warming to the development of alternative fuels to cures for infectious diseases, that need to be solved. Rather than blaming our schools, let's create exciting national programs that motivate our children to help solve these problems.”

Okay, but what do we do?

The big idea

Rather than argue the point online, I decided to head to the back room where all my old books are in hopes of finding something to help me with what we should do to improve science education. Science for all Americans caught my eye.

Just how relevant today is this book that was published back in 1990?

Obviously, the Michigan Department of Education felt strongly about it back then and gave it to all the science teachers in the 90’s. It was met with cynicism then too. It is co-written by Project 2061 founder F. James Rutherford.

  • I did not have to get very far re-reading to clue into the same ideas that we hear today. The arguments in the preface of the book (Rutherford, F. James and Ahlgren, A. Science for all Americans, Oxford University Press, 1990, p. vi) are (this is pretty wordy, so hang in there)Science, energetically pursued, can provide humanity with the knowledge of the biophysical environment and of social behavior that it needs to develop effective solutions to its global and local problems; without that knowledge, progress toward a safe world will be unnecessarily handicapped.
  • By emphasizing and explaining the dependency of living things on each other and on the physical environment, science fosters the kind of intelligent respect for nature that should inform decisions on the uses of technology; without that respect, we are in danger of recklessly destroying our life-support system.

  • Scientific habits of mind can help people in every walk of life to deal sensibly with problems that often involve evidence, quantitative considerations, logical arguments, and uncertainty; without the ability to think critically and independently, citizens are easy prey to dogmatists, flimflam artists, and purveyors of simple solutions to complex problems.

Note: I should have been with David Warlick at a Science Blogging Conference where it was mentioned that “responsibilities lie with the reader” and “people need to be learning critical thinking skills”.

Technological principles relating to such topics as the nature of systems, the importance of feedback and control, the cost-benefit-risk relationship, and the inevitability of side effects give people a sound basis for assessing the use of new technologies and their implications for the environment and culture; without an understanding of those principles, people are unlikely to move beyond consideration of their own immediate self-interest.
  • Although many pressing global and local problems have technological origins, technology provides the tools for dealing with such problems, and the instruments for generating, through science, crucial new knowledge; without the continuous development and creative use of new technologies, society will limit its capacity for survival and for working toward a world in which the human species is at peace with itself and its environment.

Consider an example of an issue that many do not truly understand. (See Will Richardson's post "How It All Ends.")
  • The life-enhancing potential of science and technology cannot be realized unless the public in general comes to understand science, mathematics, and technology and to acquire scientific habits of mind; without a scientifically literate population, the outlook for a better world is not promising.

The text also makes the case for crushing workloads of teachers and a lack of a modern support system to back them up. I think those in the edublogosphere are changing the lack of a support system mentioned.

“As the world approaches the 21st century, the schools of America - when it comes to the deployment of people, time, and technology - seem to be still stuck in the 19th century.” (Rutherford, F. James and Ahlgren, A. Science for all Americans, Oxford University Press, 1990, p. viii)

This text was written 18 years ago and the case could be made that we have not improved anything yet!

Our current paradox

The paradox is that science is currently emphasizing learning of answers over its father, the exploration of questions, memory instead of critical thought, pieces of information in lieu of understanding in context, repeating information instead of argument (argument a/k/a conversations), and reading instead of doing.

This whole paradox describes the failure to encourage students to work together and to share ideas and information. Are we treating them like the lab rats of famed scientists in that they are being "done to" instead of being "part of" the process?

Got to love that last bit: Encourage the working together and sharing of ideas and information. Imagine what the future could be!

So, what are the common ideas recommended from the book?

The reasoning for change is based on the belief that a scientifically literate person understands science, mathematics and technology are used together and needs to be evaluated critically. Citizens use knowledge and a scientific way of thinking for the better of the individual and the society.

Whether you teach science, math, technology, or any other subject, critical thinking can be emphasized.

A scientific way of thinking creates a more informative, resourceful, and creative human being.

If you had access to information and had the habits of mind to use information, can the world be a different place?

Google says Yes!
Google must think so with its coming launch of an open source science repository, also discussed in Wired Science.

Our goal for our students and humanity depends upon the habits of mind for ALL students to read, understand, and use critical information.

Promote the change…

It am uptight to think that the responses to this post may be purely negative and that the big idea may be missed. I suggest the following:

  • Understand that what is considered a basic science, math, and technology education today is very different than that of yesterday.
  • All of this will require leadership, communication, collaboration and sharing. The more who engage in collaboration and discussion, the stronger our preparation for students will be.

  • Have students uncover the facts/formulas/ideas rather than do something with just the facts they are given. This is not an afterthought final critical thinking question but how we should initiate the instruction instead.

  • Focus on comparing/contrasting/evaluating information.

  • Identify the revolutionary and conservative values that underlie all knowledge and examine both ends.

  • Emphasize the scientific habits of mind which are not specific to science and every teacher can cultivate these:

    1. Observation and manipulation of data and information

    2. Communication skills to share with truth and clarity

    3. Read and listen with understanding

    4. Critical response skills.

As I skim through the book to read to the end, it strikes me that what is being done in the edublogospere today is the premise of the kind of reform needed for scientific literacy to happen.

Not top down reform, but bottom up linking those at the heart of the discussion to one another in order to support one another and exact change.

Reform is essentially about people and not policies. We tend to change slowly as we have our own beliefs. We don’t change on whim, but instead respond to ideas and positive experiences developed from our colleagues that allow us to explore the possibilities. Those who are the change need to continue their collaborative, reflective nature!

(As we were discussing this article, Vicki Davis said to me,

"This makes me think, what if more scientists blogged their reflections as they went instead of writing it down. What if a scientist would let us be PART of pure science by videoing and posting his/her observations. What if my students could literally be observers as PART of pure science in action. What would happen? What would be the effect? Or would they not be able to do this because they THINK science is a set of arbitrary rules. What if they were truly exposed to the fuzzy bleeding edge of scientific exploration. Could they handle it? Could teachers handle it? I doubt it. Perhaps we are more concerned about using the mental faculties of memorization over that of observation." )

I am still in the journey of my own education and best practices along these lines. Perhaps more sharing starting with the teachers can move all of us forward. I implore your thoughts and ideas on this discussion.

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Notes from Cool Cat Teacher

This post is from Louise Maine of the great new blog Hurricaine Maine and is part of my own desire to foster, mentor and encourage new bloggers. (See my call to new bloggers If you were Cool Cat Teacher for a Day, What would you say? ) Immediately, I received a response from Louise that she has something to say and boy does she!!!! (Hey, beginners, if you want to be "mentored" and coached on a blog post, here is your chance.)

I praise Louise for her willingness to let me be part of the writing of this article. (I gave her editing suggestions only, the main content is here. I did get so hyper that she quoted me at the bottom!)

Her thoughts on science education are important and worthy of discussion. I particularly like her ideas that blogging can truly play a role in advancing science.

In my own opinion, while science in itself is not the answer to all that ails man, I do believe that improved communications among scientists AND the school children they wish to educate will do a better job of bringing our science education in the direction it needs to go than treating science as a discrete, rote list of items to memorize.

Relevance is a key component of today's effective academic environment... teachers who make it relevant AND scientists who reach out and make it relevant.

In short, science needs to hyperlink itself into a fantastic network of learning, experimentation, observation and innovation.
Thank you Hurricane Maine!

If your blog readers are growing, who are you mentoring and bringing out to share with others?

Tom Hoffman about Essential Schools 10 common Principles

Since Tom Hoffman has never liked me too much, I dropped by his session to learn more. I want to understand his viewpoint and see if there is something I'm missing in my own learning.

This session has a wiki and focused on discussing the The Coalition of Essential Schools 10 Common Principles and School 2.0.

I watched the ustream (which took a while to get up) and watched Ryan Bretag's live blog (until it started playing music!)

The presentation (which was really more of discussion) and the chat is archived on the wiki. ( I suggest that you fast forward to 5-10 minutes into the preso.)

Have a Backchannel!

Before I give you a few of my thoughts, I want to point out the importance of having a backchannel. This was a facilitated discussion, however, there were one or two people who dominated the conversation. With a backchannel, this is less likely to happen. (And I know it was blocked and asked to be unblocked, however, this is an important point to make.)

There were some amazing people in that room who didn't get a chance to speak (or weren't willing to push themselves into the limelight.) I wish that they were heard. One person spoke for at least 10 minutes! There were 50-60 people in the room. Will Richardson only spoke for 2! We must include people in the classroom and at conferences and backchannels let you do that!

My opinion on the Preso and 10 common principles
As for my own opinion, I've shared it considerably through the chat. But here are a few highlights:

"1. Learning to use one’s mind well
The school should focus on helping young people learn to use their minds well. Schools should not be "comprehensive" if such a claim is made at the expense of the school's central intellectual purpose."
This is the first principle. The thing that scares me here is "who defines the good use of the mind?" One might say video games aren't a good use of the mind, another might say they are. It depends. Fuzzy terminologies like this scare me a bit. (Kristin Hokanson asked this for me, however, this was not what they wished to discuss so it wasn't addressed.)

The other principles sound pretty good to me until we get to this one. And lo and behold, Gary Stager and I agreed.

5. Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach
The governing practical metaphor of the school should be student-as-worker, rather than the more familiar metaphor of teacher-as-deliverer-of-instructional-services. Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy will be coaching, to provoke students to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves.

There are several things I don't like about this. I agree with Gary Stager that the term "worker" isn't the right one for here. It does invoke thoughts of repressive sweatshops.

Meet the ProLearner
I like and use the term "prolearner" in my classroom, adapted from the term "prosumer." It is a mashup of the words "producer" and "learner" in which the learners are producing as they are learning. Whether it be podcasts, blog posts, wiki projects, or the like, they are producing and as they produce, they are communicating.

Additionally, I like the connotation of the word "pro" because to me it means "professional" and I teach students that professionals have peer review and communicate and discuss "professionally" with a demeanor of open minded, amenable communications. I also teach them that they are a prolearner for life -- they are a professional who learns whether they are a student, college student, or in a career. Prolearner is what they are. Produce and behave as professionals is what they do.

Prolearner = Producer + Professional + Learner

Just my own thoughts. Worker is just not the word there.

I also like the other items until we get to point 10, which I like mostly.

Democracy and equity
The school should demonstrate non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school should honor diversity and build on the strength of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity.

I like the idea of democratic practices. I believe in giving my students a choice about WHICH method they would like to do an assignment. However, to give them a choice of WHETHER to do the assignment would be educational suicide.

In the real world, we have a boss and the boss tells us what to do. The boss often gives unrealistic deadlines and it often "stresses us out." Learning to function effectively in such a world is important. There are times when I unveil projects (even Flat Classroom) when the students say "I don't know if I want to do this."

Initially, that is their response. "It is too big, too hard, and too difficult and I'm afraid I cannot do it!" We have to push them on towards what they can be and this requires not being democratic.

When I first got to Westwood and had very high standards, some parents didn't like it and just plain old fought me. "Let them play. Why should they have to work so hard. You're asking to much." The process of moving the students forward (and a different teaching style) was difficult. Any change is tough and we naturally don't like it.

So, democracy is good where practical.

But functional authority and accountability must go hand in hand or it is a recipe for disaster. (From my favorite professor of management at Georgia Tech, Dr. Phil Adler.) This is why we have so many problems today, teachers are given accountability and NO authority!

I use the word functional authority because there is a difference between KNOWLEDGE authority (being the purveyor of all knowledge) and FUNCTIONAL authority. I believe that we should allow students to become an expert on their topics and become knowledge authorities also. In that way, the teacher's role has changed. However, we need the FUNCTION of authority in the classroom. (This is a clarification spurred from the comments on this post.)

Beware of such statements. Democracy is good but we also must have people in authority (who use it well, mind you.)

And remember, there is a BIG difference between having authority and being authoritarian. My classroom often looks on the verge of chaos, we rarely lecture and are always doing projects. However, if I say something, the students listen and do as I ask. In a well run classroom, the teacher often does not have to invoke this "I'm in charge" sort of thing, however, there does have to be someone responsible for what is happening in the room... and that is me.

This was my first time seeing the 10 common principles. Some seem good, however, I could see that a quite literal interpretation could be unworkable in the classroom. It takes balance.
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Opening Keynote: Educon

Photo from Will Richardson.

I'm amazed at how Ryan Bretag is live blogging the keynote using the tool Coveritlive.com. I'm watching on ustream.

Here is the transcript of the ustream chat of those of us watching.

9:39 mediasnackers : hey all :)
09:39 JackieB : @coolcatteacher - There's a max?
09:39 fsinfo : http://www.iceberg.org - IL-TCE conference in a month - are you going?
09:39 mmiller7571 : I can see it on the wiki edcontv link
09:39 mediasnackers : from wales in the UK
09:39 coolcatteacher : Yeah I'm FINALL"Y in.
09:40 fsinfo : coolcatteacher is a spotlight at IL-TCE!! Yeah
09:40 coolcatteacher : We want community, that is true. I believe we should call every students name every day.
09:40 coolcatteacher : @fsinfo - Looking forward to it.
09:40 techicebreaker : Hi DK
09:40 mediasnackers : eeeks to the clipart - haha
09:40 mmiller7571 : I can't see chat on wiki only speaker have to go back and forth to see chat
09:40 coolcatteacher : I believe in smaller high schools!!! But of course I teach at one.
09:40 JackieB : fsinfo - I'm trying to convince my admin I should go.
09:41 coolcatteacher : @mmiller7571 - Go here - http://www.ustream.tv/channel/educon-channel-1
09:41 budtheteacher : Smaller schools, human relationships - all good things.
09:41 coolcatteacher : @JackieB - I'd love to meet you.
09:41 fsinfo : be back later - going to stay loggged in just in case.
09:41 coolcatteacher : I think big schools can have subgroups to personalize it.
09:41 techicebreaker : How do you offer electives at smaller schools?
09:41 JackieB : Vicki - I'd love to meet you too!
09:41 coolcatteacher : @techicebreaker - You can do it with virtual high schools -- we have electives, but also expand ap offerings w/online courses.
09:41 JackieB : I'm just not sure how much more time I can take off. We'll see.
09:42 coolcatteacher : @JackieB That is how it is with me, why I couldn't go to educon.
09:42 JackieB : I worked at a small school for 7 years. I loved really knowing every student.
09:42 mjclausen-1 : @techicebreaker rethinking certification requirements would help...
09:43 coolcatteacher : I wish there was an open source certification. There are so many battling industry certifications.
09:43 mediasnackers : ooooh colours
09:43 coolcatteacher : Does green promote learning?
09:44 CrzyVermontTchr : Good morning and greetings from Vermont
09:44 HeyMilly-2 : Hey from New Zealand!
09:44 JackieB : Good Morning!
09:44 mediasnackers : hey vermount and NZ :)
09:44 wcgaskins : Hello from South Carolina
09:44 CrzyVermontTchr : Hi Media
09:44 jstearns : Hello from Los Angeles
09:44 mjclausen-1 : Anyone know if the presentation slides are available online?
09:45 mediasnackers : video really jittery here - lots of stopping and starting - hard to follow
09:45 gmwand : camera, can you stay on the slides a little longer
09:47 mediasnackers : got to go and play squash - thanks for sharing and have a great time in philly guys
09:47 mediasnackers : peace out!
09:47 HeyMilly-2 : getting a better stream but still jittery
09:48 JackieB : Bye - have a great game!
09:49 HeyMilly-2 : sla?
09:49 derrallg : science leadership academy
09:49 HeyMilly-2 : thanks
09:50 rdrunner-1 : is this the keynote?
09:50 HeyMilly-2 : yes
09:50 mmiller7571 : yes
09:50 rdrunner-1 : thanks
09:50 coolcatteacher : Good schools transcend people. However, right now it is difficult to see.
09:51 coolcatteacher : Where many of us are an island. It is the pioneers that must set the status quo and eventually the status quo will take over.
09:51 mjclausen-1 : @coolcatteacher so true, the really dynamic programs are so personality driven it is hard to imagine them without the present leadership
09:51 coolcatteacher : and then transcend the leaders, however, at this juncture I think it is still largely pioneer- driven.
09:52 coolcatteacher : I think empowerment is key.
09:52 coolcatteacher : clap clap
09:52 jstearns : distributive leadership is essential
09:52 coolcatteacher : How many people are there?

The whole time I was IM'ing Kristin Hokanson who was sitting by Louise Maine (who has a forthcoming simulpost on this blog.)

I find this interconnection fascinating and feel that we are making wagon trails that will become the freeways of tomorrow.

And everyone, please remember, that EVERYBODY IS A SOMEBODY in the edublogosphere. Come over, comment, post, and be a part. We don't the resources and time to go to these conferences, but if they are free, join in, listen, and chat.

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Overview of Friday at Educon

No, I am not at Educon. Snuggled in my south Georgia home, I'm reading posts from yesterday and wanted to bring out the highlights (since the people there will be too busy to do so.)

Friday was basically the tour and getting to meet people at the social at the Franklin Institute with most eating dinner at the hotel at an "Asian Fusion spot" during which they had great conversations as well.

However, if you look past the normal excitement of meeting people, these bloggers had great observations that I want to share (Didn't have time for more, I've got to watch the Saturday keynote live):

"Dennis Richards got the ball rolling at one point where he asked our end of the table to share one new tool we were excited about. I shared my Olympus WS-110 audio recorders (I heard about them on Wes Fryer’s blog) which have served me and my students well over the last three months. Dennis Richards shared Mind42, a mind mapping web app that can be used collaboratively and will save all of the various iterations as you go. I also mentioned the Mac Heist software purchasing opportunity – the iStop Motion and SnapZPro alone made it a deal for me - but apparently the 15 day window is now closed. Next year maybe?. Maria Knee brought up the Snowball Mic, which she just got for her classroom, and a case for the video recorder that I need to ask the name of again..."

"Chris , the principal, has said many times that this school is not about technology and that was apparent. Every student has a laptop but everyone we met wanted to talk about student projects and the learning going on, instead of showing off the boxes and wires.The primary emphasis here is on collaboration and using all the tools available to extend the learning outside the building and the “work day”. And the staff made it look so easy. :-)"
I echo the sentiments that the focus is on LEARNING. Not the tools. I also believe that extending the learning outside the building is vital. The lines of school and home time are becoming a bit blurred and I believe we'll see this change further in the future. (My students already have growing RSS readers of their interests to attest to this.)

Who is going virtually?

Many of us not attending are getting a handle on things with Principal Melinda Miller planning on attending today's ustreams which are available at edtechtalk or at Darren Draper's mashup page.

OH, Kristin Hokanson just im'ed me and is adding me to the links for their google notes and I'm watching Ryan Bretag live blog the keynote.

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Go to Educon this morning: 10:00 EST! FREE ONLINE & LIVE!

If they could hear me up there in Philadelphia at Educon, they'd hear me clapping my hands.

The Educon page over on edtechtalk is beautifully primed and ready for the meetings that will take place a scant hour and a half from now. This is the conference I've always dreamed of, put on by a bunch of folks who believe in the future of education. WE CAN ALL ATTEND!

So, get out that laptop, put on those headphones, hitch up your skivvies and get ready to go to educon. (Oh, and you can also go to second life and read other info on how to join in the day.)

Chris Lehman, I applaud you. I was really upset because I could have either cut out some Christmas for the kids or gone to educon and of course the kids won out. This work over at edtechtalk has me excited!

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Are Webkinz just Crummy or a Tool to Use?

David Warlick's great spam blocker ATE my comment but I just had to respond to his post and the growing comments about his thoughts on Webkinz today in Are They Working on Their Reading?

"Again, it’s critical that children learn to sing, play with other children, build with blocks, play in the sand, and read books. But I wonder how learning to read, within the context of these online experiences, might differ from how we traditionally learn. For this four-year-old, reading almost immediately becomes a tool that improves his experience. It’s a skill that he uses to work his environment and, in this case, feed his pet, buy cloths, interact with and impress other children, and teach and learn."
Some comments:

Gary Stager says:

"I’m with you on reading, but what is really social about using your toy in conjunction with anonymous others in really primitive cheaply produced software? How is this richer than playing with dolls/animals/blocks/cars/the long-gone imaginative play/dressup corner in bygone classrooms?
Have you seen the Webkinz software? It makes Math Blaster look like high art.
Webkinz is undeniably a brilliant stroke of tschochke marketing. Kids may even love them.

However, isn’t there a danger of projecting too much educational and sociological significance onto an elephant purchased in an airport gift shop?? Just because some of
us found a voice online does not mean that everything changes."

I tried to say:

"My daughter and many others at our school love webkinz. And I think perhaps that Gary thinks the software is "crumby" because he is not the demographic target. The target is kids and they love it.

My 10th graders used the Webkinz to create an online safety course for our elementary school and it was an incredible success! We are planning a follow up! The students can still remember everything they were taught: do not share passwords, only add friends that you verify via voice, and other things about safety that were intertwined into the course.

Anything can be used to teach if it is planned and thought through and adapted for what it does well.

This is how our children relate to one another it is part of their lives. They also congregate on xbox live, play each other's Mii's and all sorts of things that take them out of their cocoon. However, we cannot discount their experience as a valid one. Yes, they still need exercise and to be well rounded.

What bothers me is why older generations always feel that the younger generation is only valid if the younger childhood relates to their own. I can remember my parents "kicking me off" sesame street telling me to go play outside.

Let them be who they are and join them. It is fun and we might learn something. Or we can just stomp our feet and say "be like me" as they look the other way and laugh.

Listen. Learn. Help the students be what they should be. Listen to what they say about what they are doing. We might all learn something about how to be better teachers and to relate better to today's student."
I just tire of the generation gap thing. I play Webkinz with my daughter and am proud of it. There must be those of us that bridge the divide and figure out ways to use what kids love to our advantage and to teach.

In our class we also taught about the importance of using a timer and doing other things and use several examples of people getting "lost in the net." The tenth graders also talked about obesity and the sedentary lifestyle.

And they had their rapt attention because they used Webkinz to do it. It would take 10th graders to do it that way. It was genius.

Gary is not the only one I've heard criticize such things. Just think and look and learn.

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Horizon Report 2008 is available now for download

Although the report will officially announced on Monday at Educause in San Antonio, the Horizon 2008 Report is available now for download and the Horizon Project wiki is available for viewing.

We're planning some new amazing things for the April/May Horizon Project (see last year's project.)

In addition to analyzing the MetaTrends of the last 5 years, this report outlines the major emerging technologies for college level education in the next 5 years including:

1 year or less
  • Grassroots Video
  • Collaboration Webs
2-3 years
  • Mobile Broadband
  • Data Mashups
4-5 years
  • Collective Intelligence
  • Social Operating Systems
What I love best is the tagging standard -- you can add examples of your own using delicious.
2008 tagged items http://del.icio.us/tag/hz08 How do I del.icio.us it?
So, if you find something on collective intelligence tag it hz08 and leave a space and tag it collectiveintelligence. Then it will show up in delicious. We will use these tags in our student project as well.

How they wrote the report

The process of participating in this was amazing (Julie Lindsay and I were on the advisory board) and has given us a lot of insight that we will apply to our own projects... Larry Johnson is an amazing leader as is Alan Levine. The examples and information are incredible.

Who should read the report?
I believe that all educators, particularly those in a college setting should read this report, if only to have an opinion. It should also be studied by preservice teachers to understand what they are getting students ready for. I often hear that schools of education are the slowest to adopt and understand these trends.

We have got to get in the habit of change

This seems counterintuitive, however, the only constant now is change. As I like to say "When you're green you're growing and when you're ripe, you rot." We need more "green" people who are willing to learn new things at those levels. Be green. Stay green. (And I'm not talking global warming, but that too!)

I look forward to discussing these trends more in the future. Goodnight!

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The Frustrations of Finding the Audio & Video for Student Films

OK, so I have a little money -- not a lot, but a little. (Around $2000 give or take.)

I need to get:

A Camera -

I have one with DV tape but it is terrible to get onto the computer and keeps dropping frames. I WANT one with a hard drive (they just go for longer) and am very interested in the Canon HG10 AVCHD 40GB High Definition Camcorder with 10x Optical Zoom which from what I understand films in the coveted 24p cinema mode, however, my book Filmmaking for Teens: Pulling Off Your Shorts (which I HIGHLY recommend for anyone doing film in their class, says I HAVE to get a 3 chip camera and it looks like the Canon HG10 doesn't have that. The book also says I need: manual focus, white balance, audio in, image stabilization, and progressive scan. I also need to figure out what to do about a CLear UV filter that my book says I need to protect the lens.

2) Microphone -
This is where I'm having a TERRIBLE time. I need a shotgun microphone ideally with a Wind Eliminator (fuzzy sock). I am also a little confused about the XLR Cables and XLR Adapter that I'm supposed to get and the Boom Pole that I need unless we just make one.

3) Lights - I am probably going to have to rig one up from the hardware store supplies mentioned in the book but might be interested in a professional lighting kit. I KNOW NOTHING about this.

OK, so

I have Headphones and a Tripod already so I think we're OK there.

So, as I've done before, perhaps there are some people struggling. I've created a wiki page for you to help me formulate the best way to do this under an extremely small budget. Edit there or leave me a note here.

And please, don't make me feel stupid! I've been struggling for a month with this and researched for so many hours. I feel so dumb and need to place this order this week. HELP!!!!! (Or tell me who to call!)

Great Conversation with Kim Cofino from Thailand

Kim Cofino, 21st Century Literacy Specialist at the International School Bangkok, Thailand was the interviewee in an amazing conversation about change, social networks and how she ustreams her teacher professional development.

The show links are at http://del.icio.us/WOW2.0/wow2_20080122.

She is using a ning with her 5th graders and loves it! Hear what she says about the teachers and their thoughts!

Several links you may want:
  1. All PD sessions for her teachers are online at ustream.

A reminder of our changing world

I received a reminder from an alumnus of my school Westwood.

I received this e-mail last week from alumnus Oliver G.and he gave me permission to share it.

Dear Vicki,

You probably don't know me as I'm a not so recent graduate of 1991. The reason I'm contacting you is that you can imagine my surprise as I'm reading through Friedman's book The World is Flat and find a section in there about Westwood Schools in Camilla, GA.

It was quite an inspirational story, but I think it only confirms what we’ve known now for a while: the access to and dissemination of information is no longer limited by infrastructure and physical location. Small towns and small schools now have access to just about everything that their larger counterparts do.

What you do with that information is up to your imagination and the limitations of the 24 hour day. It’s a great leveling force for students at any level, and I’ve seen this develop from the days of CompuServe with a dial-up connection on my Commodore 64 in the early to mid 80’s to coming up with ways to apply that technology to my current life and career.

Keep up the good work, the world is watching! If anyone else is left there from my times, please tell them I said hello.

Oliver **Full Name removed**, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Surgery
Washington University in St. Louis, School of Medicine
St. Louis, MO

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(I have to say that I'm proud of my alma mater and Oliver's letter makes me proud, both of him and his accomplishments and of our school.

We are such a small school, but it is amazing the things people from here go on to do. We have NASA scientists, political advisers, surgeons, leading IT people in the military, high ranking military officers, denominational leaders, Wall Street Advisors, and people on Broadway. (Oh, and one outspoken blogger. ;-))

Odd that we graduate a tiny senior class of 15-30 each year and people go on to do such things. It always makes me proud when I hear from fellow alumni such as Oliver and reflect on how special my own school is.

For those of you who don't know, we're in a tiny farming town and this school has stayed open with our blood, sweat, tears, lots of pies and cakes and raffles. Our tuition is less than the public school spends per student and less than half of the other private schools in the area, but is supplemented by our fundraising efforts... we cut soup labels, write grants, use grocery coupons, and cook A LOT!

While we're not perfect, I think somehow the fact that we all have to work so hard to keep the school going and thriving... it sends a message to the students... who seem to win at almost everything they do. We're very small, but we have big hearts. We can live in a small town but not have small minds.

I say this not to put down every other school in the world but to make a point...

Every school has its story.

It is important to tell it and tell it often. Share with the parents, faculty, and students what it MEANS to go to your school and what the people are doing from your school. Build esprit de corps. Talk about what you're doing and why it is important.

Tell the story of your school. Often, it is the stories that we care about most.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Free Yugma Premium Account for Bloggers

Another great reason to blog is that I get great things for my classroom and to make me a better teacher. For my classroom it has been $80,000 worth of grants, funding, software, and services over the past year.

Here is one for all bloggers from Yugma:

Therefore, effective today, and running until January 31, 2008, we’ll be donating sponsored Yugma Premium accounts to bloggers who ask. Each sponsored account will be good for 12 months ! All a blogger has to do is request an account by sending us an email at renee[at]yugma.com. You must include your email address and blog website address. (Limit one sponsored Yugma account per blog site.
Blog and ASK FOR IT!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

She's no longer "hiding behind her blog"

I'm so proud of Reflections 2.0 for going to her principal about her blog. Her original post Hiding Behind My Blog was concerning because it shows much of the prevalent thought of educators and I wrote Why Should You have to Hide Behind Your Blog.

Read her great new post: Came Clean I'm Coming Out! in which she says:

"I had to struggle with what I’d do if my administrator said she WASN’T ok with me blogging publicly and in any relation to our school - how tough am I? How strong are my beliefs on this issue? Well, I decided that my beliefs about not blogging anonymously are strong enough that the issue needed to be addressed. Vicki’s constant use of the phrase “professionalism in blogging” made me realize that this WASN’T a choice - it had to be done, and soon. Especially with all the attention my angst-ridden posts were getting! So, how’d it go?

As usual, my worries were completely and utterly unfounded. My principal is a visionary in education and treated me like the professional I am - it’s understood that I won’t compromise the confidentiality of our students or the integrity of our district and I’m now free to blog under my full name without the fear that it will somehow come back to haunt me in the future. I was chomping at the bit to write this post immediately, but was at school - this is my own project that I do on my own time. I respect that and had to wait until I was off contract time. So, I’m finally updating the saga, and actually, the saga’s over for me! I feel so much better about what I’m doing here and look forward to being able to connect on an authentic level with my readers and others in the blogosphere."

Let's give a standing ovation! Please go to her blog and applaud both her and her principal!

This is a model of doing the right thing the right way.

Oh.. and we're planning a mini-series as a simulpost. She has great potential. I wish I could spend time with all of you new bloggers out there, but for now I guess I (and you) will have to trust the happy accidents that seem to be happening all around us.

She ends with:

"For all the new or fearful bloggers out there, I’d suggest working your PLN to find a mentor - mine have been invaluable to me and I wouldn’t be writing this right now if it weren’t for them. Thanks to all who offered advice this past weekend, especially those who actually posted comments, it means a lot to me."

I want to tell everyone REMEMBER THE POWER OF COMMENTS! You are blogging if you comment on a blog. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but you are.

Comment comment comment. They make a difference. (I can't tell you how many days I tell myself... oh, the readers that show up on my blog... they're not really reading... no one is reading. And when a comment comes a long, snap... I'm back and realize that what I'm doing does make a difference.)

Blog on and blog strong.

Edublogosphere, you rock!

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